How retail startups can use technology to compete with the big players


One of the most common startup businesses in Australia is the retailer, and one of the constraints that many retailers face – especially as they are just getting their business going – is a perceived lack of resources or technical capability to create a website that could compete with the larger players.

Yet affordable technology is now available which can not only simplify the process but create a more even playing field for smaller retail brands to compete with big business here and around the world.

What can a retailer startup do to start taking advantage of online selling?

Leverage your strengths

Rather than trying to compare or compete with the big global brands who are often quite diverse in their positioning, finding a way to highly leverage your unique proposition as a retailer is the key to online growth.

In other words, when you’ve got a niche offering and brand, but can take it nation-wide or even international, then you’ve got a very big community to tap into.

Have a broad product offering

While being niche is good, make sure your outlet is also the premier outlet for that niche. Consumers are now expecting greater choice when buying products online, and this means you need to be able to offer the widest range of goods possible.

This of course can create inventory challenges, as most small retailers need to run lean and can’t afford to have large warehouses filled with stock, so putting additional focus on the systems to manage inventory when setting up the business is essential for the retailer – even if it will be an online-only play.

Have a robust fulfillment strategy

In Australia, one of the most expensive parts of online retail is in fulfillment, with couriers and other forms of distribution making a substantial impact on the bottom-line.

Taking advantage of click-and-collect, and making use of a variety of fulfillment options, is key here. Competing on raw price in Australia is difficult as a consequence of the fulfillment piece, but in providing efficiency and choice, customers will generally be more accommodating in return.

Be social

Customers often come to retailers because they like the personal touch – they want to know that the people they are interacting with are closely involved with the business and care about it.

The platform that people like to use to interact with brands is, now, social media, so as a minimum an SME retailer should have a Facebook presence and build towards Instagram and Pinterest – particularly for highly visual products that work well with those networks.

Sirens Swimwear relies heavily on Instagram and Facebook for its marketing, for example. A large number of bridal brands are on Pinterest. It’s key to understand where the audience is for the product you’re selling, and then drive the message hard through that channel.

For a cash-strapped startup retailer, however, social media is a major opportunity, as it allows for marketing with minimal budget. Social networks can also be a great way to provide loyalty rewards and coupons to increase engagement in your brand, and the loyalty that they can build can mean the difference between success and failure for a retailer in its first year or two.

Keep a close eye on cash flow

One of the challenges that retailers can face when conducting business online is cash flow. Ideally, with online retail, transactions will happen frequently, occur over a 24/7 cycle, and they will be automated, meaning that it’s important to keep a close eye on what has actually gone through the business.

This is difficult to do manually, so a good, automated, reporting structure is key if the retailer doesn’t want to discover that it has run out of cash.

For a small retailer, setting up to sell online can be the most significant project of the business’ development, but it is an essential one to act on and develop.

Once there, an online web store becomes any business’ most valuable asset, and from there a retailer, even in its earliest stages, can start to think big.

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